On behalf of Ellen Seligman’s family, it is with profound sadness that we share the news that Ellen died today.
Though we are in the business of words, I find it next to impossible to express the grief I know we all feel with the loss of this incomparable woman. But while we mourn, we also celebrate Ellen’s momentous career and all she achieved in her close to four decades at McClelland & Stewart. Though again, it is too hard to come up with just the right adjective (though Ellen would of course want me to) to accurately or adequately describe the contribution Ellen made to Canadian literature.
Readers will never know the full extent of her influence, but among the staggering list of authors she worked with (often from their very first books), they will recognize many of our country’s finest and most beloved writers: Margaret Atwood, Leonard Cohen, Elizabeth Hay, Anne Michaels, Rohinton Mistry, Michael Ondaatje, Jane Urquhart, Guy Vanderhaeghe, Peter Robinson and countless others. She was both an editor and a publisher, and she approached each role with exacting care and a constant devotion to her authors and their work. Ellen edited some of Canada’s most celebrated books, including 23 Governor General’s Literary Award winners, 6 Scotiabank Giller Prize winners, 4 winners of the Man Booker Prize, and many others. She was also the tremendously proud publisher of Nobel Prize winner Alice Munro, and of Eleanor Catton’s multi-award winning The Luminaries. Ellen kept a keen eye on new and fresh Canadian voices, including through McClelland & Stewart’s annual publication of the Journey Prize anthology.
Beyond our borders, Ellen was widely recognized as one of the world’s best editors, with impeccable literary taste and instincts. Her passion for nurturing and developing Canadian writers was renowned, as was her commitment to publishing in Canada both new and established writers from around the world: Anne Carson, Sonali Deraniyagala, Anne Enright, Ben Lerner, Andrew O’Hagan, Colm Tóibín, and Sarah Waters among many others.
Ellen was a fierce champion of poetry publishing in Canada, and committed herself to its ongoing health and stability. She recently re-launched McClelland & Stewart’s poetry program and recruited to its board an all-star cast of advisors: Dionne Brand, Ken Babstock and Kevin Connolly. Books in this program have garnered 5 Griffin Poetry Prizes and many more nominations, but it is Ellen’s moves on the dance floor of the Griffin Prize gala that deserves equal recognition.
All of us lucky enough to work with Ellen will have been inspired by the energy, creativity, elegance, and intelligence she brought to everything she did. She was a generous colleague and collaborator. She worked to the highest of standards, raising the game for everyone around her, all the while sharing her love of publishing.
No one who knew Ellen will be surprised to learn that she spent many of her last days meticulously overseeing the final details for her fall books. With extraordinary passion and care, Ellen completed the edit of Steven Price’s novel By Gaslight—ensuring the fall publication of one of McClelland & Stewart’s biggest fiction titles in recent years. She was incredibly proud of the work she and Steven did together, and was so excited at the prospect of sending the book out into the world.
It seems impossible to imagine that we will be without our beloved friend and colleague. It’s unfair and heartbreaking to say the very least.
Our thoughts are with her longtime partner, James Polk; her sister, Margaret Seligman; and her family.
We also know that this is an especially difficult time for her closest colleagues at M&S, including Doug, Anita, Jenny, and Liz, who have worked with Ellen for many years, and for her dearest friends—many of them her longtime authors. I know you share their enormous sense of loss and will mourn alongside them. All of us at Penguin Random House, and indeed the entire world, just lost one of the absolute greats.
The family will be holding a private funeral, to be followed by a memorial, details to be announced later.
President and Publisher
Penguin Random House Canada